January 28, 2004

Golden Globes, a personal opinion. 

Since moving to the US, I am not the couch-potato TV junkie that I admit to being for years in the UK. I am far more selective in my viewing habits, including latest British offerings broadcast on BBC America as well as the news channels and national television networks. Hence the reason I sit and write this at 9:30pm on a Wednesday evening (between American Idol and The Mole Celb Challenge).

That said, I did make a point of watching the Golden Globes at the weekend, an annual awards show where unlike the Oscars, the Hollywood Foreign Press brings together the best in both film and television nominated for 24 awards.

On behalf of the majority of the American viewing public I can only report my shock and anger at the BBC comedy "The Office" beating the best of network comedies including Will and Grace. This insult further extended with the Best Comedy actor award being given to the star of this show.

"The Office" is not in my personal opinion good comedy. It is not well written, and the cast offer little in the way of inspiring talent. The plots the revolve around the lives of a small department in a paper products company based in Slough, are nothing short of a string of insulting jibes and stero-typical characters between the main cast members that in some small way is supposed to represent the business relationships in a British company.
It is sad, so very sad that not only do the Hollywood Foreign Press think this is worthy of nomination and award, given that it the type of humor to degrade co-workers is certainly different from the Friends, Will & Grace, type comedies.

In the US it is not uncommon to find airings of "Are you being served?" and Monty Python both well over twenty five years old still being broadcast. With more recent comedies such as "Keeping up appearances" rarely raising a minor rating on BBC America, somehow The Office only broadcast on BBC America, (a channel that recently cancelled Eastenders), to be even considered.

I have sat and watched a number of episodes of what I beleive to be the first series of The Office. Instead of laughing with the characters I found myself cringing. If this is the type of office politics that I have left behind, then simply good riddence to bad rubbish. The work ethic in the US first and foremost is from personal obersvation based on respect of your co-workers.
A trait that does not exist in The Office.

I understand that a US network is to produce their own version of the show with an American cast. Somehow I predict that it will be cancelled in short order as not only do the scripts fail to translate easily, but the situation of this comedy is not one that I can easily relate to that would be identified by the great American viewing public.

As in the UK, reality televison rules the ratings war. Currently The Apprentice, with sixteen wanna-be-working for Donald Trump, compete for a lucrative prize to head up one of his companies. Created by the same team that brought Survivor to the screen, this is a winning formula. Yet there are many others that fail to inspire but create cheap television for the networks, including one of the latest, "my big fat fiancee".

Each year the major networks commission several new sit-coms, The Office (US) will be one of these. Each year many, many of these die never to be seen again after a few episodes.

However with Friends and Frazier in particular coming to the end of their runs this year, the networks are looking to replace the sit-coms with new blood. There are some great offerings in the stables that have recently been developed or are into their second or third series. One in particular is "Whoopi" starring Whoopi Goldberg who owns and runs a small hotel in New York. I draw a comparison to Fawlty Towers, only more complex written for an international audience. Watch out for this one.

In conclusion America, the BBC may have celebrated on Sunday with two golden globes. Both totally unexpected, so unexpected they NEVER expected to win and had not even prepared a speech. Then again within a couple of days the BBC DG resigns over the finding of the Hutton report. A bitter sweet week for them it would seem. That however is a different subject for a different posting.

Next month we see the Oscars. Low odds for The Lord of the Rings, The return of the King, cleaning up in every category nominted. One ommission, not one nomination in best supporting actor for any of the Rings Hobbits cast. An oversight perhaps?

Feedback always invited, please email me.

January 23, 2004

A singular commanality with the Mars Rover. 

The Mars Rover has stopped communicating this week only transmitting odd squeeks to the technicians at NASA. I have stopped speaking this week as my voice has resorted to high pitched squeeks and other non-descript noises instead of words. But enough of my state of health.

Reports of the systems failures and the subsequent rebooting over 60 times of the Rover for streams of endless jibberish in binary code, brought to mind the image of the unseen Martians breaking off the antenna and pulling wires on the terran invaders.

Given that the second Rover is due to land on the other side of Mars this Saturday, the question I ask is how fast can the Martians move to destroy the second rover, or are the little green men on the far side friendlier?

Time will tell if Mars truly is a "killer planet".

An American Tea Party
I have the pleasure and privilage of working with the most professional dedicated group of people in the country. The members of the Development and Communications Department that I consider friends at MSAA marked my first anniversary at this fine organization by hosting a surprise "English Afternoon Tea Party", complete with a vast selection of tea's some from the finest tea sellers in London, finger sandwiches made by my boss and a selection of cakes and pastries.

Given the range of squeaks and high pitched noises passing as a voice this afternoon, I could only applaude my friends for keeping this one unwraps and making this truly a real surprise.

My first anniversary at MSAA is the 27th, but with the prospect of team members not all being available they all wanted to participate. It was a very civilised way to while away much more time than a British tea-break. I must report that in style, only the Savoy may have been able to improve on the ambience and the production of scones and clotted cream, which there was little room left after munching on both cress and cucumber, and salmon finger sandwiches.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

January 17, 2004

Opportunity knocks but once. 

Life is an adventure, it is not a roller coaster with up’s and down’s always returning to the starting point to do the same over. Life would be less of an adventure and more of a chore if it not more than same-old, same old, time after time.

Since the start of 2004 in a very few days my adventure has literally looped the loop and most unexpectedly last Tuesday taken a curve that literally knocked me off my tracks presenting me with a new path to take along the road less traveled that I have chosen to take in my life, rather than holding to the safety and directness of highways.

I have been quietly observing the proposed changes to American immigration policy in the last couple of weeks, as in the first days of 2004 received a letter calling my wife and I to a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security (INS, BCIS, CIS) in Philadelphia. The agenda was to remove all conditions relating to my residency in America and to restate my green-card status.

We met with a judge who had us both stand to swear an oath that the information we were to give during the interview would be the truth. This short ten- minute meeting was long enough to convince Her Honor that we met the requirements to maintain unconditionally my status in the USA for the next 6-months which would be further extended as necessary.

The “curve” was that since my arrival in America, unbeknown to either of us, the immigration rules relating to my status have changed, specifically the period of time to be a legal resident in America before being approved to apply for citizenship. I was told on Tuesday that some eighteen months before it was scheduled, I can now seek American citizenship with the rights and privileges that citizenship entails, that I forfeit as a legal permanent resident including the right to vote, the right to taxation with representation, historically an argument that created America over 225 years ago.

To understand my personal perspective on the matter of citizenship, you need to know me better that the words I post on London Chimes. I am by nature as British as a stick of Brighton rock with “Made in the UK” written throughout. I love Britain home of my beloved parents, brother extended family and friends. But I have also come to love and respect America, it is more than where I happen to live, I have made America my home. Professionally, I have been able to seek out opportunities and make them my own that allowed doors to open to me that were barred in London. Personally, I have grown, developed other interests beyond those I was known for in Britain that makes me a more rounded and content person. I have started down the road of parenthood, by adopting my daughter from China. Once we have returned to America with her she will be legally an American citizen with the rights and privileges citizenship offers.

This week I have been reminded of a poem, The New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) that is mounted on the base of the Status of Liberty.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Each immigrant who arrives in America, from the very first that sailed across the Atlantic in dreadful conditions to seek out a new life for themselves, to immigrants such as me and our soon to be daughter.

Re-read the poem again, think of the daughters of China who are adopted in their thousands each year by caring families living in America. Then I think back to the years before I emigrated and here a ringing of truth behind those words, ever more poignant as I arrived not by boat, but by Virgin Atlantic to Newark New Jersey, our final approach to the west of New York harbor home to the Statue of Liberty.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The final two years before making a leap of faith to come to America to seek out a new life was difficult. Living and working in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world was truly tiring. There was contract work to be had but little opportunities for anything that remotely seemed a permanent position. Certainly those two years personally gave me a needed shot in the arm to bolster my resume and skill set, allowing me to work on amazing projects, that has helped me in America only hindered me in London.

The decisions that lead to my leap of faith are crafted into this poem. I was tired, I was not being paid my worth, and I desperately wanted to get the break I needed to provide for my new wife and our new life together. Doors were barred to me, while the term “wretched refuse” seems a strong statement, looking back at those years, if refuse is something that is no longer required, not needed, due to the harsh economic and employment conditions, then at that time I was indeed refuse on an island surround by many other talented individuals caught in the same trap as I, bubbling in a crock-pot called London.

Life should have options, I knew when I married my wife, an American citizen who had emigrated to Britain to live, that we had a lifeboat should anything go wrong that we could always turn to America. “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me” we sold everything we could, gave away other possessions to friends and family, sold our home and like millions before us flew to America taking only the clothes in our cases, (with other belongings shipped three months behind us) passing the lamp beside the golden door on our approach to Newark.

This leap of faith I consider as my greatest personal achievement. With each passing day, life in America is more and more a normality, I find myself contributing to the greater society and have carved out a role a use that is far more significant than that I have ever done before.

As a child, a teenager and in twenties, I often dreamt as we all do to wonder what life would be like when the Millennium came, what would I be doing as an adult, what would life have in store for me. Somehow even with a clear career ahead of me, I could never truly see my future beyond 2000. Images of what could be faded to undefineable shadows. My destiny, my life plan was not clear. Now I understand why, at the time I had never been to America, not even to visit. I had no point of reference that could envisualize a life as an expatriate. Now my dreams have focus, I can see along my road less traveled and can report that my adventure is beyond my wildest expectations.

Historically we all recognize America as a country full of cultural diversity as well as a common heritage. Whether ancestors arrived here by ocean liner or ship, or crossed land. They bid goodbye to their homelands and come to escape famine, war, and prejudice, or are abducted, or are lured by tales of gold, and finally make a fresh start in a strange new country called America.

As a comparatively recent immigrant arriving by jet-plane, I also bid goodbye to my homeland and came to escape adversity to make a fresh start in a somewhat familiar country called America. I am now faced with an awesome opportunity that many in the world would truly give their right-arm for to take up citizenship in America.

I will always be British through and through, I shall continue to carry my British passport, yet I state clearly, hear and now, that I know in my heart-of-hearts that it is not a case of IF I will grasp this opportunity with both hands and a willing heart, but WHEN, sooner probably more than later.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

January 10, 2004

Kabco, a London hardware wholesaler. 

Thirty-one years ago the high streets of London and the surrounding counties to the north and east looked very different to that of today.

Shoppers would go to the bakers for bread, the greengrocers for fruit and veg, the butcher for meat and the hardware store for all their household needs, pots, pans, plastic ware, clothes lines, pegs, nuts bolts, screws, electric bulbs, dustbins, the list runs into thousands of essential items all provided by one store.

The face of the high street has changed over the years, now the hardware warehouse "shed" style one-stop shopping superstores have taken over from the owner operated family stores that have been squeezed out of business by a more convenient way of shopping.

Much can be said of bakers, butchers and all that can now be found under one roof of the large Tesco and Sainsbury stores. This is truly a sign of the times.

It is with some sadness that I have to report Kabco Wholesale Ltd, formerly of Ropery Street, Bow more recently of the Viking Business Center in Romford, Essex a company that called a great many of the owner - operated and managed hardware stores in London and beyond its customers, is winding up its business after thirty-one years.

My personal interest in Kabco is that they not only employed my Dad up until his recent retirement for many years, but that the owners Ken and Alan and their families were considered family friends, as were all who worked at this great company.

Kabco provided more than step ladders and buckets, they provided a service that maintained an industry that was over the years squeezed by the warehouse giants.

For the hardware industry the writing was on the wall, despite the valiant attempts of their customers to continue the fight to keep the hardware stores in the high streets where they belonged, to prevent the cancer of business blight that can be seen too often today with empty old shops long since closed with no opportunity of opening as business is attracted away from the high street to the retail parks on the edges of towns.

I had the honor and pleasure to meet with many of the employees of Kabco over the years. They were a great group of characters, who knew their customers and treated them in the old school way through personal contact that developed long term business relationships.

In 2004, there is no room for Kabco in an industry that has been overtaken by the retail giants. In the last week I understand Home Depot the American giant is making a play for the controlling interests of Kingfisher in the UK. This if it moves ahead will truly be the final nail in the coffin of the high street hardware business.

There are literally millions of hardware items in the homes of London, Hertfordshire and Essex - and beyond, that would not have been purchased without Kabco working to supply the hardware stores with the hardware needs of Londoners.

Kabco provided a valuable service and for that on behalf of the millions of customers I offer my heartfelt thanks and mourn their closing.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

January 09, 2004

A great opening week to 2004. (Updated) 

Wow! Is it Friday already? So much seems to have happened in such a short week, both personally, professionally and in the news. I find myself deluged with many topics to comment on.

From being described as the "death planet" for swallowing whole unmanned probes most recently the Beagle, and others before. NASA successfully landed a rover on the surface of mars and started to send back the most impressive panoramic color shots of the red planet. A second American rover probe is due to land on the other side of Mars in short order, before the end of the month.

One has to imagine the little green martian men who for years have been disconnecting the transmitters and hiding behind rocks so that Mars would remain a mystery a little longer. But with a terrestrial armada of three earth probes in December and January, of the one that was lost, possible landing in a crater, the second is fully functional and we have yet to wait to hear of the success of the third.

While the question is asked space at what price, and humanities blindness at the technology we take for granted from previous missions that benefit us all daily, I wonder of the future benefits yet to come.

I have heard that there may be an announcement due very soon, possibly today from President Bush of plans for a manned flight to Mars and a permanent base on the Moon. Obviously, almost one year on from the Challenger disaster, (Feb 1), all new projects will involve new space craft and new technolgy. I understand that no timetable is set for a martian manned mission, but the the moonbase mission has a more defined timeline.

Regardless, it is great to see the space agencies and NASA taking a brave step forward after a difficult year.

QE2 +1 = QM2
I once saw the Cunard liner "Queen Elizabeth 2". I had a scale model built by my Dad sitting on the pelmet over my bedroom window for years, and can visualize the stacks, bridge, lifeboats and cascading pool deck, to this day. I actually saw her leaving Southampton, heading around the eastern coast of the Isle of Wight as a yong boy on vacation. It was a truly unforgetable experience.

Now that the QE2 is being retired after a long a distinguished service including service as a floating military hospital during the Faulklands , the waves are from this week to be ruled by the Queen Mary 2 and was given a royal send off and naming ceremony by HRH herself.

Despite coming from a seafaring nation, personally, boats and I mix as well as orange juice does in milk as family members and close friends will testify. That said, I do enjoy looking boats over when they are securely moored to terra-ferma. The QM2 would seem to ooze luxury from tip to stern, reflecting a golden age of travel where how you got somewhere was more important than the time it took to get there.

I wish the QM2 well as the new Cunard flagship.

New Immigration Policy

President Bush announced new immigration plans this week to help source low income jobs in America that cannot be filled by citizens of America. There is to be an increase in the number of green cards to be offered, and a new level of temporary green card that allows, for instance Mexicans to travel to the US legally for work.

As a permanent legal resident in America, I have listened to both arguments made by those in favor and against this new policy. Economically it makes sense to attract workers from outside America, yet there is a cloud over the security of the borders of America.

The argument that this move will open the gates to terrorists is a mute and senseless point. This is an economical move that may have some political benefit in an election year from the latino population. Not that these new workers, like all with green cards, will be able to vote. This is a key point that many are confused over.

The 9/11 terrorist were in America legally, before these plans were ever devised. This fact being fact with the new policy in place will not necessarily open the doors to terrorists who may indeed already be in America legally.

The announcement of this policy so close to the recent possible terrorist threats over the holiday season is at best polticially lousy timing. But in principal the policy seems to set on a sound foundation. Yet, I consider myself in a minority this week in support of this policy as this issue is too closely tied for the need to protect the borders of America, including the thousands of miles between Canada and America. While I have heard reports that on a given weekend there was not a single military presence along one of the longest borders in the world, somehow I cannot see the effectiveness of watching posts all around the borders to the north and south and the coaastline to the west and east and south east.

Green cards will only be issued for jobs that cannot be filled by an American. A continuation of the policy that companies must adopt when sponsoring a non-citizen for a green card at higher, professional levels.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

January 02, 2004

Out from "under the weather" in 2004 

Happy new year to all readers of London Chimes.

I hope that you enjoyed celebrating the season and if you are anything like me raring to get back to business now January has arrived.

I am indeed up from bring under the weather over the holiday season. The flu of epidemic proportions in the US hit hard on Boxing Day, to be honest Christmas Day I was not exactly in the best of health as I could feel my temprature rising and my tolerance slipping off the chart. But nothing, I say nothing was to interfere with this Christmas Day.

Needless to say Boxing Day and many other days after were something of a blur, as between sleeping, resting, and more sleeping during normal daylight hours, to complement the total amount of Advil Cold and Flu taken (enough to down an elephant), I am now raring fit and set to ... head back to the office on Monday, following the closure since the 24th. Agh! What a way to spend time off!

I have pluged and unplugged into the news and of course kept a watch on the news of the airline challenges from Heathrow, Paris and Mexico to the USA with interest. Something is obviously afoot. I have reconciled that a plot with Air France regardless how it played out to the news media probably scuppered something saving hundreds of lives. But we will never know. The intellengence community will never be given the plaudits they deserve as they are doing their best to stop any possible terrorist action. The fact that nothing happened is testiment to their efforts.

With specific comment to the cancelled British Airways flight, in the interest of transatlantic safety, the sooner the flight leaves Heathrow for Washington DC the better. How about placing a number of airmarshals on board just in case.

Evidently time will tell what threat lay behind the actions of BA and the other parties.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

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